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Older users of a befriending service in Ireland and the maintenance of personal autonomy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Thomas Scharf



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


In the Republic of Ireland (RoI), COVID-19 public health guidelines have been most restrictive for people aged 70 and over. Such individuals are most likely to avail of befriending services offered by a network of Irish organisations. The aim of this study was to explore the impact of COVID-19 guidelines on befriending service users, and to develop recommended adaptations to befriending services compatible with such guidelines. A qualitative constructivist grounded theory approach was taken to the study design and analysis, using semi-structured interviews to collect data from 11 participants by telephone between May 2020 and January 2021. Results show a grounded theory describing how older users of a befriending service maintained their personal autonomy in the face of strict government guidelines. Participants described living life as usual, often contravening guidelines, and how they chose to adapt to the situation, yielding both positive and negative outcomes. Some potential adaptations were discussed to the befriending service (including a preserved focus on the social and emotional functions of the befriending relationship, and the accommodation of collaborative decision making about communicative alternatives), but ultimately it was made clear that participants would tailor the services to their own preferences. Results have implications for befriending service design and delivery, and for public health officials who wish to support the health of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Holton E, Fitzpatrick R, Maguire R, Commins S, Scharf T, Lawlor B, Johnson N, Hannigan C, McHugh Power J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Year: 2021

Volume: 18

Issue: 6

Online publication date: 10/03/2021

Acceptance date: 03/03/2021

Date deposited: 25/06/2021

ISSN (electronic): 1660-4601

Publisher: MDPI


DOI: 10.3390/ijerph18062788


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